PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that a vaccine to prevent COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, could start being administered as soon as the end of the year in France if it is approved by regulators.
“We are going to mount a swift and massive vaccination campaign,” Macron said in a televised address to the nation detailing how the country would begin to ease a lockdown this weekend.
“We will very probably, and while awaiting the authorization of the health authorities, to start the vaccination of the most vulnerable populations, therefore of the elderly, from the end of December, beginning of January,” he said, adding that other population groups would be offered vaccination consecutively. .
Vaccination would not be mandatory, Macron said.
European governments are scrambling to define what could be the biggest immunization program in decades.
The task seems particularly difficult in France, which has one of the lowest levels of confidence in vaccines in the world.
According to an Ipsos poll for the World Economic Forum, only 59% of French people polled said they would receive a COVID-19 vaccine if it became available, compared to 67% in the United States and 85% in Britain.
Macron said that a scientific committee would be created to monitor vaccinations and a group of citizens would also participate to ensure transparency.
Health ministry officials said a working group overseen by the prime minister’s office was currently in charge of logistics and equipment to store vaccines at very low temperatures had been purchased.
A range of other government agencies would also offer advice on how to conduct vaccinations in the coming months, they said.
The deadline outlined by Macron is ambitious given the deadlines usually taken into account by security agencies to process and assess data before approving a product and the time needed in the field for its deployment.
Macron’s comments echoed those of the European Medicines Agency (EMA), whose new chief reportedly said on Tuesday that the organization could produce a scientific opinion on COVID-19 vaccines for regulatory approval of here the end of the year at best.
But it’s not yet clear exactly when agencies will make a final decision, although they do consider the data as it becomes available.
British drug maker AstraZeneca followed US rivals Pfizer Inc and Moderna Inc on Monday in releasing successful trial data for its COVID-19 vaccine.
Provisional results from the advanced trial of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine released on November 11 showed its injection to be 92% effective.
There is no internationally approved vaccine to prevent COVID-19, which has killed more than 1.4 million people and disrupted the global economy.
The European Union has so far concluded agreements with Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, CureVac, Pfizer and BioNTech as well as with Moderna.
With 1.9 billion doses expected at this stage to reach the EU, France aims to secure around 295 million doses, according to a government source.